According to Dr. David Schmitt, professor of homoletics at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, the Apostle Paul was in Corinth when he wrote his letter to the Romans. He was about to journey to Jerusalem to bring an offering from the churches in Asia to the poor in Jerusalem. After his trip to Jerusalem he wanted to bring the Gospel to the farthest reaches of the Roman empire, the country of Spain. Along the way, he planned to stop in Rome, a place he had never visited. So he sent a letter ahead to introduce himself as an apostle and to share with the Roman believers what he believed.
Paul’s own words towards the end of the letter put it this way: “I have longed for many years to come to you,  I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.  At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints.” (Romans 15:23-25, ESV)
The church in Rome may have been started by the “visitors from Rome” were among the crowd of people that gathered to find out what was going on when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. These visitors from Rome heard Peter proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their own language. They may have been among the 3,000 people who believed and were baptized that day who then proceeded to return home to Rome and start a church there.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is considered one of the greatest letters ever written and is one of the greatest books of the Bible. Martin Luther loved Paul’s letter to the Romans, mostly because of its many clear passages of the Gospel. Time and again when he was challenged about his teachings Luther referred back to Romans to show that what he was teaching was not something new but what had always been taught.
National Public Radio used to have a program called “This I Believe” where people could write essays to express their faith. Thousands of individuals from all walks of life submitted essays about everything from everyday topics to their belief in God. Some of the essays were then shared on the radio.
When I found out about the program I wrote an essay and sent it in. I don’t know what they ever did with it. My essay was about the power of words. God is the eternally speaking God. The members of the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, speak to each other. We see that right in the first chapter of Genesis when God said, “Let us make man in our image.”
God then proceeded to give humans the ability to speak and it is one of our greatest blessings. But words can also be used to harm.
In the Bible, we have the very words of God and they are powerful. In chapter one of Romans Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” For Martin Luther this was transforming. He had been taught all his life that salvation depended on his efforts. Here in Romans he read that the power for salvation came from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If you were planning to visit someone and wanted to introduce yourself and let them know about you what would you write? Would the Gospel of Jesus Christ be right at the top of the letter? Paul’s letter to the Romans would certainly be a good place to start for ideas. Another favorite passage of mine is Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
In his letter to the Romans, Paul included a section on his weaknesses. He did not brag about being a perfect saint. He freely admitted that he still struggled daily with overcoming sin. If you wrote a letter and just talked about what a great Christian you were and never struggled with anything, who would believe you?
One of the main themes of Paul’s letter to the Romans is that nothing that happened in the past can compare with what we have now in Christ.
“But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.  And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:15-17, ESV)
All that happened in the past, going all the way back to Adam’s original sin, the good and the bad, cannot compare with what God has now given to his people in Christ.
The same is true in our lives. All that has happened in the past, the good and the bad, cannot compare with what we have in Christ.
No one knows if Paul ever made it to Spain. He did deliver the offering to the poor in Jerusalem as planned but then Paul’s plans were changed. While he was in Jerusalem he was arrested brought up on false charges by the Jews and his case went all the way to the emperor in Rome. The book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome waiting for his case to be heard.
Several early church fathers say that Paul went to Spain but there is no evidence in Spain itself to indicate that he did. But whether he did or not, the letter Paul wrote to the believers in Rome in preparation for his trip to Spain is a masterpiece. This blessed letter is filled with eternal truths and has been a blessing to believers throughout history from the early church to Martin Luther to the present time. All that took place in the past cannot compare with the surpassing mercy and grace we have been given in Christ.
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